Global Agenda Council on Urbanization 2012-2014

 

The challenge

The growth of cities and unprecedented rural-to-urban migration throughout Asia, Latin America and parts of Africa are frequently cited as defining global trends of the 21st century. While urban growth often conjures up images of skyscrapers and fast-moving transit systems, the truth is that these emerging areas are not postcard cities. Rather, the “face” of the trend is marked by informal settlements, or slums, on the periphery of urban centres and the informal economy.

Informal settlements result from the inability of governments to provide adequate infrastructure services for incoming or existing residents, and to create functional markets that generate housing opportunities. Informal settlements are a coping mechanism whereby residents fulfil their basic housing and infrastructure needs themselves, outside of the legal realm. The health and environmental conditions are usually dire: fewer than 35% of cities in developing countries have treated wastewater, and half of the solid waste is not collected in most cities in low- and middle-income countries.

Access to economic opportunity tends to be slim in informal settlements, making the informal economy the dominant lifeline. Residents lack easy access to road and public transportation networks or face arduous commutes, while the lack of legal residences creates a barrier to obtaining jobs in the formal sector.

What the Council is doing about it

The Global Agenda Council on Urbanization recognizes that informality has negative and positive sides. On the one hand, informal settlements and the informal economy are coping mechanisms in the absence of functional civil and economic institutions. On the other, they represent an impressive display of entrepreneurship and job creation at the hands of people. Many quality of life and business innovations have been born on the edge of legality when government has not seen or has intentionally ignored informal settlements and commerce.

The Council has been working on identifying best practices from communities around the world in addressing the vulnerabilities of informal settlements and the informal economy, and best practices to unlock the positive externalities – be they at the hands of residents, companies or government.

While urban growth often conjures up images of skyscrapers and fast-moving transit systems, the truth is that these emerging areas are not postcard cities.

The best practices will be showcased in an innovative publication called Urban Anthologies Volume II: Addressing Informality. The Council will share the publication with mayors, civic institutions and business leaders through the World Economic Forum network and the Network of Global Agenda Councils. The publication builds on the Council’s work in 2011-2012, which resulted in Urban Anthologies Volume I: Learning from Our Cities. 

To get involved please contact

Research Analyst: James Pennington, Associate, Global Agenda Councils, james.pennington@weforum.org 
Council Manager: Robin Ried, Associate Director, Head of Urban Development, robinried@weforum.org 
Forum Lead: Martina Gmür, Senior Director, Head of the Network of Global Agenda Councils, martina.gmur@weforum.org